in entrepreneurship

What the playground taught me about relationships

A few years ago, I remember entering a business plan competition. Understand that, my falling into this whole entrepreneurship thing is borne largely out of an attempt to make life easier for other people.

Anyway, I entered this competition with an idea that might have been sound from my perspective, but really wasn’t anything game-changing. (The idea was to create an online network that aggregates content from university TV stations around the country. I know about OSTN already. You don’t need to tell me. This was a for-profit deal, tho.)

In any case, the idea was fine and needed to be worked out, but was largely rejected as too ambitious for the sort of competition we were in. Which I found strange, but given the venue, perhaps it wasn’t really all that surprising at all.

What’s the point?

No one else can dictate the parameters for how you succeed.

One of the things I’ve learned from my time working for myself creating businesses and having moderate success, is that you can’t expect other people to ever validate the good things you’re doing when you are in the midst of plying your trade. Sure, it’s possible for folks to say nice things to you. And they often do and it’s always appreciated. But people aren’t usually in the business of helping you succeed.

It’s a strange thing to realize. I mean, it’s not that folks are mean. Or aren’t interested in seeing you be happy. It’s just, what they want for themselves ends up having a lot more relevancy to their everyday life plan.

Maybe this is all very obvious stuff I’m bringing out here, but I read enough blogs about entrepreneurs effectively believing that if they just work hard enough and “put themselves out there” that someone will “notice them” and provide them with an opportunity to thrive, with all of the money, professional support and expertise needed to create a hot startup that’s on the bleeding edge of this or that.

It just doesn’t work that way.

You have to be bold and ambitious in your pursuit of excellence. But never lose sight of the fact that you are in control of your own destiny and that other people aren’t going to ever be as focused on your mission as you are.
It’s akin to playing a game of touch football when you’re a kid. I recall in elementary school that I was always wary of playing football with kids in the playground, because I was afraid our game of “two hand touch” would turn into someone plowing into me. As a result, I wouldn’t initiate or play much. At least until I start to refocus and realized that it wasn’t the game that was a problem, it was the players involved that mattered more. So I would always make a point to see who was playing and if they were people I trusted, then I’d play and usually had a great time as a result. I knew the folks I’d grown to trust weren’t in it to hurt me and were just looking for the same thing I was.

We built those relationships over time, by spending year after year in the same classes, at the same school and attending each other’s birthday parties.

The point?

Trust your gut and surround yourself with people that allow you to let down guard enough to truly thrive.

If you’re always being cautious and looking around to see what happens, you’ll never allow yourself to discover the depths of what’s inside of you. You might be successful, but you might be wound tightly and less well rounded. It also doesn’t sound like much fun. Being surrounded with people who empower your strengths and who don’t constantly remind you of what’s wrong with you — especially if you’re someone who is their own worst critic — can give you a platform to thrive in unimaginable ways.

I’m sure all of the geniuses whose blogs I read and who sell books with posts from said blogs have said all sorts of brilliant things about how convincing people to like what you do is all in the way you execute. But not all of us are wired the same way. I think it’s far more important to spend and invest the time to know yourself and to use that knowledge to inform and benefit your relationships and the experiences you have.

But you can’t expect anyone to be more passionate about what you do, than you. Even if they like you a whole lot.